The Insider’s TSA Dictionary

Adapted from the SOP accidentally released to the public by a bungling TSA higher up.

Modified for truth optimization.


10-100: Originally, CB radio lingo for a bathroom break. This is what some TSA officers say when they’re tired of their co-workers.’

15-30-15: Formally, what the TSA employee’s breaks are supposed to be (in numbers of minutes), but these numbers are doubled for lazy people and people in suits. The rates for people in suits who rank higher than the other suits increase exponentially.

Airport Wizards: A term for Behavior Detection Officers, whose underlying theory and program was often attached by the TSA to the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, who spent much of his career in search of “Truth Wizards.”

Alaska: Where you will spend most of your time if you make the decision to join the TSA’s National Deployment Force.

Alfalfa: TSA malespeak for an attractive female passenger.

Baby-shower-opt-out: When a woman opts out of the full body scanner and accidentally lets slip the explanation: “I don’t want to go through the scanner. I’m pregnant,” evoking a shriek from her fellow traveling companions, “Why didn’t you tell us, Becky? OH EM GEE!?” A mini celebration then takes place right there in the line. It is one of the few heartwarming things that ever come about due to the full body scanners.

Bag Check: What many Transportation Security Administration employees pretend to be doing when there are male or female opt-outs.

BBC: Bogus Bag Check, or Bullshit Bag Check. What happens when a not-too-bright x-ray operator decides to call a bag search.

Bin Loader: What a TSA employee is for the first month of his or her employment.

Blogger Bob Burns: The TSA’s mouthpiece on the TSA blog. He was simply a TSA officer who had happened to be the most web-savvy (read: he could form coherent sentences and had a Blogger account) of the people in the vicinity when the TSA Blog was conceived. This is explained in Kip Hawley’s book (see Permanent Emergency).

Bruce Schneiered: (V, transitive) When a passenger uses logic in order to confound and perplex an officer into submission. Example: “A TSA officer took my Swiss army knife, but let my scissors go. I then asked him wouldn’t it be more dangerous if I were to make my scissors into two blades, or to go into the bathroom on the secure side and sharpen my grandmother’s walking stick with one of the scissor blades into a terror spear. Then after I pointed out that all of our bodies contain a lot more than 3.4 ounces of liquids, the TSA guy got all pissed and asked me if I wanted to fly today. I totally Schneirered his ass.”

Burka Conundrum, The: A question that the TSA has never addressed about its BDO program: Behavior Detection Officers (See: Airport Wizards) are supposedly looking for indicators such as microexpressions in would-be terrorists, but what about a woman (or any person, for that matter) wearing a full body burka? Do the wizards have x-ray vision? Another one of the infinite number of ways that a determined terrorist can glide right by TSA security theater at any time.

Code Red: Officer malespeak. Denotes an attractive female passenger wearing red.

Corbetted (to Corbett): A term connoting a David like figure single-handedly exposing ridiculous vulnerabilities of a Goliath-like billion dollar technology. Example: “The TSA announced they were going to start random house screenings after the house bomber plot last month. But some guy proved that all you had to do to foil the screening is close your curtains. Totally Corbetted their ass.”

Cost benefit analysis: What the TSA pretends to use when making operational decisions. Really, they add the cost-benefit figures instead of using the proper multiplicative technique. This is all explained in the book “Terror, Security, and Money.”

Criminal Justice: What every other college-educated person at TSA majors in as undergrads before going on to disregard everything they learned.

CSS: What an officer will say if you’ve seriously annoyed them.

DHS: What every TSA employee claims as his or her employer, because saying you work at the Transportation Security Administration is generally embarrassing.

Doctor’s Note: A magical thing for TSA employees that makes everything alright. Example: “I called off 6 days in a row after failing my practicals, calling my supervisor an asshole and falling asleep on the exit for 2 hours, but I’m getting a doctor’s note for it all, so it should be kosher.”

Engage!: Flirt with attractive passenger! Pretend to be doing something meaningful with a passenger while bickering with a passenger who has angered you!

ETD: All-encompassing panacea on the checkpoint. Ex: “Supervisor, I’m not sure if I can really clear this sealed can of Pediasure that this gentleman is flying with. The passenger is acting kind of funny, and I thought I saw wires coming out of his kid’s shoes…” “Just ETD it all and let it all go.”

EVIL: What the TSA has us looking for in practice x-ray images and inside of everyone.

Explosives Trace Portal (Puffer Machine):Technology for the airport terror fight which the TSA spent $29.6 milliion dollars on without bothering to test in airports first, leading them to trash all 207 of them. This is typical TSA procedure.

Fanny Pack, Lane 2: Code for an attractive female passenger.

Foot odor: The closest thing to a true terrorist threat that you will face as a Transportation Security Administration employee.

FSD: Federal Security Director (of Airport Mall Cops).

Government Accountability Office: The TSA’s worst nightmare.

Hotel Papa: Code for an attractive female passenger.

ICMS: A TSA abbreviation which is supposed to stand for “I See Me in the Solution.” Another nugget of wisdom that TSA officers receive in their condescending training “classes.” There is a popular sentiment among TSA employees that it should be changed to ICUP, “I C U in the Problem,” and that this new slogan should be posted on the office doors of upper management.

Idea Factory: An intranet message board  only visible to TSA employees meant to give the illusion of a progressive, decentralized democratic organization. Where, mostly, obscenely stupid ideas are thrown around. Good ideas are ignored. The perennial issue concerns boosting morale at TSA so that people will take more pride in working that job than they would working as, say, just an airport security screener, which is sort of an asinine thing to keep bringing up because no matter how much tax payer funded lipstick you put on that pig it will still just be fucking airport security.

“I sure could go for a Twinkie, right now”: Code for an attractive female passenger.

Jif Peanut Butter: One of the main things you’ll be saving the world from in your day-to-day activities as a sworn Federal security officer devoted to protecting the nation from the existential terrorist threat.

Kids who appear 12 or younger: Another turnaround that completely negates the supposed premise that TSA was operating on for the first 9 years of its existence, i.e. one where absolutely anyone could be a potential terrorist, which is why everyone has supposedly been subjected to all of their stupidity in the first place. Basically just one more example of why you can never take anything the TSA says seriously at any given time.

Layers: The TSA’s catchall term for everything they spend time, money and resources on when there is no solid justification or explanation for it. There are apparently 20 layers of security operating at your airport every day, all of which may successfully hamper the passengers whose shoulders it will inevitably fall upon to save the day if and when a determined terrorist glides past all 20 of those Maginot Lines.

Lead: The person who either A. Actually runs the checkpoint or B. Ruins it.

LEO: Law Enforcement Officer. What TSA officers both aspire, and sometimes pretend, to be.

Letter of Counseling: You got caught swearing at a supervisor about the letter of guidance, and then called off.

Letter of Guidance: You got caught swearing at a passenger.

Letter of Reprimand: You swore you were done with the job, called off for several days, and then came back in without a doctor’s note.

Lightning: More of a risk to people than what the TSA spends your money on.

Liquid Container Screening: The thing TSA does not sensibly use on a robust and random basis so as to allow people to bring most liquids on the plane.

Low risk passenger: A category of passengers which is arbitrarily meted out and or bought.

Meet Resistance: Formally, an important on-the-job advisement that TSA officers are required to give yearly during their bullshit yearly practical song-and-dance routine assessments. It has evolved into slang usage among off-duty TSA employees, usually in romantic environments or settings. Ex: “Girl, just to let you know, I’m going to lay you down on that bed and slide up until either I meet resistance, or until you opt out. Whichever comes first. “

“More radiation sitting on your flight than you get from these machines”: Mindlessly-repeated information parroted by TSA agents when attempting to convince passengers who are wary of the radiation in backscatter scanners to opt back in. If you then ask the officer “where did you study radiology?” or, “I’m sorry, can you please convert the radiation dose emitted by this machine from Sieverts to Rems for me?“ they will almost never have any idea what you are talking about.

NDF: The national deployment force, a program that TSA officers can sign up for that makes them eligible to be deployed as traveling TSA screeners, sent to airports as seasonal demands or emergencies or Alaska calls for them.

NSA, CIA, FBI: What TSA aspires to be.

OLC (Online Learning Center): Depending on the size of the airport, either where officers spend most of their time or none of their time.

Opt out: A smart passenger.

Parachute Paradox: You may not have known this, but parachutes are allowed to pass through airport security, after they have been specially screened. Any skydiving instructor is well aware of this. But even if it has been safely cleared, the pressing question remains: why exactly does that passenger so urgently need a parachute, and can everything truly be clear in this case?

Permanent Emergency (book): A book by former TSA chief Kip Hawley that ostensibly attempts to score some sort of future political points by portraying Hawley as the head of some kind of exciting and dangerous front line counter-terrorist group, instead of just airport security like it really is.

Permanent Emergency (slang): Refers to a banal scenario fancifully elevated to the realm of a spy thriller, much like all of TSA. Derived from Kip Hawley’s book (see above) Ex: All grandma had was a jar of Jif peanut butter in her purse, but the TSA agent was getting all Permanent Emergency on her about it being a prohibited item, like she had a peanut butter bomb plot going on. He gave her a chat down on some Airport Wizard shit.”

Pizza boxes: Where TSA sometimes advertises for new recruits.

Please remove your shoes: A documentary, as well as a mostly stupid rule. The first time you as a TSO order a man to remove his sandals but then allow his son (who appears to be 17 but whose father’s word you pretty much have to take is 12) to keep his snow boots on, you will know what stupidity is.

Practicals: An absurd annual test that rewards or terminates officers on the basis of a one hour song-and-dance routine mandated by the TSA every year. To be expected from an agency so rooted in theatrics. Sends perfectly good employees home without jobs and allows poor employees who are good at giving dazzling one hour performances to further game the system.

Pre Check: Pay-per-circumvent security.

Psychological test: The test that TSA should really be administering yearly in place of the practicals.

Quad S: Four microscopic “S”s that must be caught on passenger tickets, or else it’s your “asses.”

Quit now or get fired later: A bargain sometimes given by TSA management to employees, either unfairly or much later than it should have been. It is also sometimes a scare tactic used to trick employees into quitting when management in fact has a non-existent or flimsy case for termination against you.

Retaliatory wait time: What happens when a TSA officer doesn’t like your attitude. There are all sorts of ways a TSA officer can subtly make you wait longer to get through security, citing imaginary alarms, going “above the SOP” for “a more thorough screening,” pretending that something in your bag or on your full body image needs to be resolved— the punitive possibilities are endless, and there are many tricks in the screener’s bag.

Run the Cat Through the X-Ray (idiomatic): Denotes a passenger, usually someone from out of country, who is so unfamiliar and lost in U.S. airport security that they are likely to make significant errors, such as running their cats thorugh the x ray tunnel. Ex: “We need an officer to go out and help that flustered gentleman out front before he runs the cat through the x-ray

Service monkey screening: The holy grail of all TSA screening procedures. Provides endless possibility for fun, such as supervisors and managers coming along after the service monkey has been screened and asking with a straight face, “Officer, at any time during the screening did the monkey climb on your back? At that point did you get the monkey off your back? Was there monkeying around? And at that point did you spank the monkey?

Suitcase Surgeon: Informal term for a TSA employee, derived from the blue gloves they wear. Used ironically, because it’s not like what the TSA ever does requires anything remotely approaching the mental capacity of a surgical procedure anyway, even though you may feel as though you’ve undergone a surgical procedure after they’re done with you.

TSA: Taking Sense Away (Thousands Standing Around, Toilet Safety Administration, etc.)

TSA Baby: Officer slang for the result of procreation between two TSA officers. This is not advised, because statistics show that the likelihood of a TSA baby turning out to be a mediocrity who reflexively snatches and cries incessantly about people’s liquids, gels, creams and aerosols and who tells airplane pilots that they are not allowed to bring Swiss army knives on the plane because they may use it to hijack the plane are substantially high.

TSO (Transportation Security Officer): An airport-mall-cop who is either 1. just there for the paycheck and the benefits or 2. Just there for the paycheck, the benefits, and the unearned level of authority conferred upon him, her, or it.

Two Striper: These are the people with two stripes on their shoulder boards. Oftentimes they will pretend that they are supervisors when you ask for a supervisor because TSA is chronically understaffed due to the strains of staffing hundreds of mostly-useless full body scanners and sending out teams of roving BDOs (see: Airport Wizards).

Union: An entity that withdraws money from a TSA employee’s bank account in exchange for promises.

UsaJobs: A website that has messianic-like properties for TSA employees. Ex: “One day Usajobs will come through and deliver us from this place, oh Lord.”

VIPR: Security circus road show.

White Shirt: A TSA employee who still believes his or her job is a matter of national security.

Xray Xray Xray!: Code for an attractive female passenger, general.

Yellow Alert: Code for an attractive female passenger, yellow clothing.

Ziptop baggie: A magical thing that renders liquids safe for airplanes.

Zebras Love Boarding Happy Planes: Annoying mnemonic that only TSOs understand, and which they only need to understand once a year, anyway.

ZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA: The letters which may be involved in TSA malespeak code for an attractive female passenger

To submit a proposed entry to The Insider’s TSA Dictionary, email

See also: The TSA Policy Generator: Enter a thing. Click create. Get your TSA policy statement.


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